August 17th, 2003
"Treasure in the Water"
Water Communion Sunday
(This was the first service in our Newly
UUMAN Children’s Choir –
"The UU River Song" by Joe Schayfer
Call to Worship
We enter this new space, this morning, with eyes wide and hearts filled. We bring with us a past both personal and collective, with a faith and purpose that is, today, renewed. In this room we shall discover and deepen our knowledge of ourselves, widen the broad horizon of our minds, touch one another with care and with love, create a place for justice to take root and continually place ourselves before the mystery of our unfolding lives.
We come into this place knowing it is fertile ground for hope. Seeking truth. Bound to the promise that here our convictions become as strong as the very wood and stone surrounding us. It is we who christen this space with awe in the knowledge that the difference we can make is only limited by the ceiling of our imagination. And it is we, who are called to share such imagination with all who seek proof that miracles do happen – that love and sweat can move mountains.
Can I hear some excitement this morning?!?!
My name is Greg Ward and I am the minister of one heck of a group of fine people!!
This morning, along with Karen LoBracco, our director of religious Education, Jeff Robbins our pianist, Dan Ben-David, our soloist, and the UUMAN children’s choir I welcome you to the Unitarian Universalist Metro Atlanta North Congregation – May this building and the people who make it great – be now and forever more known as UUMAN.
Unitarian Universalist is a liberal religious community open to all people who seek the truth with love in their hearts. We are a non-creedal community, meaning we don’t ask our members to subscribe to one ultimate statement of truth. We consider the notion of God - indeed the entire question of ultimate truth – to be too complex a topic to be encapsulated into one phrase or slogan. And we recognize the great tryanny that has occurred whenever institutions have insisted that this be so for all people. It is for this reason that are not united by one belief. Yet we are united by a common practice to bring our many individual beliefs into one community in honorable, respectful ways with the understanding that everyone has something to teach and everyone has something to learn. Unitarian Universalism is a great religion and these people you join this morning are a great congregation. We want you to feel very welcome here on this, our first worship service in our new building.
We are very glad to see all who are seeking truth in these walls, whether you are here for the first time or have been here many times before. We would love to show you around and let you know how proud we are of what we have done and what we plan to do. If you are new here, this morning, and you would like to introduce yourself so that we may worship as friends, we invite you to stand, tell us your name and where you are from.
Welcome!! Please join us for coffee and conversation after the service. We would love to get to know you and make you feel at home.
Please take time to read your order of worship and the announcements of what is going on in the community that are printed on the back. Also, please see our newsletter, the UUMAN Times, or our adult programs guide which you can get out in the entry way after the service. We have many programs that go on all throughout the week and invite you to ask questions of and/or join any activity that may be of interest to you.
There are a few announcements.
Please notice the art which has been placed throughout our sanctuary this morning. These pieces not only add warmth to our worship but some of them are for sale as well. If you are interested, please see Annette Pate. And if you happen to see one of the artists during coffee hour, please take time to thank them for their gifts of talent and hard work.
Tonight, at 6:00 we will have a potluck dinner which will precede our building dedication which begins at 7:15. This is a very special event which promises to be well attended. Please come early if you want to make sure you get a seat. A jazz band reception will follow at 8:30.
I ask you now to stand and join in singing our opening hymn, Wade in the Water.
Let me tell you an old story about a world very different than ours, but also very much the same. It comes a time long ago, when the earth was almost completely covered in water. A great reef ran for as long as anyone had ever traveled and divided the world. The peoples on either side become the sworn enemies of the other.
Many wars were fought all along the reef It was a very dangerous place to be.
On one side of the reef roamed the ships at sea and the women and men who lived on board. On the other side lay the vast seas and all the creatures under the waters. Both sides came to know the reef that divided the two worlds as ‘the edge of safety.’
On the ships an entire civilization existed and grew. Women and men ate, played, met one another, fell in love, married and raised families. They fished for food, repaired their boats, taught their children and told stories under the stars.
Some of the stories talked about the world to come. The possibility of finding a real home to live on. A real place where people could come and feel safe, and welcomed. And loved.
Some of the stories they also told were about treasure. One that existed somewhere near the edge of safety. Some said it contained riches; others, power. But with the number of wars were fought there only the fearless and fools searched that part of the reef.
One of the people who talked of treasure near the edge of safety was a man named Mishak. Some say he was fearless. Others a fool. His life was something of a mystery, but this we know. He was the captain of a small ship who sailed the reef and was known to always carry a certain blue box. He carried it everywhere he traveled. And whenever asked what it contained, he would tell you, quite plainly, it was treasure. Some thought it must be true since Mishak was an honest man. But few had seen for themselves, and everyone was curious..
Not very many people knew where Mishak came from. He would never say, though it is a fascinating tale. Mishak was born an outcast. His father, when Mishak was just a tiny baby, had dared to suggest that the ships make a truce with their enemies on the other side of the reef. He was declared a traitor and was killed. Mishak, himself, was used as an example to warn others who were thinking of treason. As the unwanted son of a heretic, he was tucked into a small blue box and placed in a rowboat and left in the reef that divided the two worlds. Those who cast the small baby figured that he would starve. Or worse, that the sea creatures would eat him.
But that was not to be.
On the other side of the great reef lived the sea people. Some called them ‘scaleys’ or ‘fin-heads’ or worse. But they preferred to be called ‘mariners.’ They lived mostly in the water but could also breathe air. They had great tails to swim fast in the water and arms and heads that looked human. They played in the currents under the sea, where they searched for food, met one another, fell in love, married, raised children and told stories under the crashing waves at night.
They too told stories about a place they could call home – a place of freedom where they would never have to worry about enemies attacking.
They too told stories of treasure on the reef, near the edge of safety. Treasure of unknown riches and power.
And one who told such stories was a mariner named Pearl.
Pearl, unlike the rest of the mariners, had lived her whole life close to the reef. She was born along ‘the edge of safety’ and though the details of her story often differ, one thing is certain. Wherever she went, she kept with her a small blue box. Whenever asked, she spoke of a great treasure. So that word spread far across the sea. And all who had not seen it, became curious. And jealous.
Not many knew much of Pearl’s childhood. Though it was a fascinating tale. Pearl was born while her mother, Osha, was traveling the reef looking for a calm place to give birth. She knew the edge of safety was a dangerous place, but the waters were shallow and strangely inviting and her labor was already upon her.
In the days that followed the birth, Osha nursed her new baby, rested and regained her strength for the long return home. But just before she was to leave, Osha noticed something unusual - a very small boat drifting aimlessly through the reef. Daring to look inside, she noticed a blue box holding a small human baby. Being a new mother, she couldn’t bear to think of an infant – no matter what kind - cast adrift. She immediately took it upon herself to care for the new baby as well as her own.
But it quickly occurred to Osha: she couldn’t return home with the infant. No human could survive the deep waters where she lived. And her people would never accept him. But she refused to leave him helpless on the reef. So from that day forward she took on the task of caring not only for Pearl but the new baby as well, whom she named Mishak, which meant, ‘miracle.’
Keeping two babies alive on the reef was no small task and it took every bit of time and energy for Osha to do so. She managed. But the consequences were great.
Eventually, the mer-people became worried and went looking for her. When they came upon her, months later, they saw her nursing a young human baby by the reef.
"Outrageous!" they said, when word got back. "It must mean that she has married one of our enemies and given birth to a human child! Surely she is a traitor! No more, will she be allowed to return to us, for she is no longer our kind."
From that day forward Osha and Pearl were declared outcasts. Osha tried to explain what had happened and change their minds, but they would not listen. They insisted that she could only return home if she abandoned the human baby. But Osha, by this time, loved him as her own. And so, with great sorrow, but an even greater joy, she made her decision. She would have to live on the reef. But she vowed to protect this child and to raise Mishak as her own.
Now is the time in the service where the love that binds us together is spoken aloud.
If you have a joy or concern that by sharing with this caring community brings you the quiet you seek, or magnifies the joy you feel, then stand, tell us your name and the joy or concern that you would have this community hold in their heart for the week to come.
For these joys and concerns, and those that still remain in the unspoken care of this community, we give thanks to be in this company of thoughtful minds, loving hearts and helpful hands.
Spirit of Life and all that is holy,
We gather today in a new way. Begin today as a new people. Hold before you new ideals, hopes, aspirations, and understandings of ourselves. We are grateful for dreams realized and so we speak to you this morning with renewed gladness. Thank you for this time, this space, these people who help share our glory and joyousness. And let us also remember that there are those among us who, despite everything new around us, bring old hurts, unresolved dilemmas, concerns left unanswered and an anxiety they drag into their tomorrows. Let a piece of our joy go to their solace. Let our answered dreams be the path laid before them. Let our compassion be their comfort. That someday we may all find a way to build bridges between the troubled and the triumphant. Between the needy and the comfortable. Between those in the embrace of love and those for whom love is lost. May we not expect miracles to save those in need around us but, instead, be miracles unto them. That we may know and be – that they may know and feel – the salve that heals a hurting world.
Story Part II
It was a difficult life in the reef. Not having the protection of others. Often having to hide from the warring ships, those looking for treasure or the aggressive mariner hunters. But for years she managed; all the while learning to care for someone very different than her.
She started, early on, to take the wood from the sunken ships of the reef and build a home. It took several years (and a long and arduous capital campaign and an expensive loan with many guarentors signing on) before they had a proper home,. It had a place under the water for Osha and Pearl and a small room above for Mishak.
Osha decided to take the old blue box which had brought Mishak to her and fashion from it two smaller boxes, giving one to each child. Each day they would all search for treasure to place in the boxes. Each evening, Osha would hold her children close and tell them stories about the sea, about the treasures undiscovered near the edge of safety. And always end by reminding them that finding each other was the most valuable treasure.
Osha taught Mishak more about the sea than any human had ever known. He learned where fish swam and how to catch them. He learned about currents, the ways of the mariners, and how to keep hidden from the passing ships.
After some time, more mariners came. These were other outcasts who sought out the reef, looking for a safe home. They were welcomed, and as each one made their home there a community formed..
And everyone who came loved Mishak and treated him like family. And they learned that many of the things they had been told about the people who lived on ships simply weren’t true.
But no matter how much they loved him, no one could deny he was different. Some worried about war being declared if they were found living with a human. But realized their loyalties were stronger than their fears.
But even beyond that it became impossible not to notice that Mishak was growing up. Osha could see how each new passing ship commanded his attention. He had already built his own sail boat and talked endlessly of riding the waves with the wind in his face. Pearl especially could look into his eyes and see that more than their little reef was calling to her brother.
Everyone knew the truth. But it was Osha’s job to tell him. "It is time for you to see what it is like in the world of ships," she said. You were born to be a great man, perhaps a captain. And you were born to teach people where to find treasure and how to build a home where all people get along."
"Then you will come and help me teach them," Mishak protested.
"They are not ready for us," Osha said sadly. "They do not know of us what you know."
"But how will I teach them? How will they learn?" he cried.
"Take my box." Pearl replied. "I have filled it with my treasure. Perhaps someday it will convince them that there is something more valuable then making enemies and war."
"Then you must also keep my box," Mishak returned. "That those who come here will have my treasures and learn something of my kind."
So, it was agreed. And Mishak, with Pearl’s box by his side, set sail the next day.
Mishak eventually found passage on a ship. Although the women and men thought he was rather odd carrying his box around, and the stories he told seemed far fetched, he quickly became known as a good sailor and fisherman. After a short time this skill and knowledge allowed him to become the captain of his own ship. He attracted a crew who believed in freedom and tolerance and told all who were in search of a home about the community he knew at the edge of safety..
More and more humans and mariners sought out this new community. Pearl remained there, teaching, telling stories and taking care of Osha. And sharing with them the treasure of the box that Mishak had left. It became a place where all learned how to share their treasure together.
Still, despite these efforts, talk of war escalated. Those on both sides were hearing stories of a treasure discovered at the reef. Each passing day brought those who were more interested in riches and power than in peace. Tensions were running high along the edge of safety.
Mishak had a bad feeling and turned the Heretic toward the reef. He sailed quickly, but by the time he arrived, fighting had broken out. The battle waged on for hours with many lives on both sides being lost. Desperate to stop the escalating aggression, Pearl appeared holding Mishak’s box high over her head, hoping it might be a symbol of peace. Thinking it was the treasure they came seeking someone struck Pearl in the heart with a single spear and she sunk down in the water still holding her box.
Racing to her with his box, one mariner feared he was going for the sinking treasure and sent a harpoon into his side. He collapsed, next to his sister, each holding the boxes close to their chest.
The war continued around them, but for a moment that one spot all fell silent. Those all around gathered in the shallow reef where Mishak and Pearl lay. One brash captain claimed the boxes of treasure for himself. Another mariner stepped forward and challenged him. Tempers flared and fighting nearly broke out before an elderly mariner made her way slowly to the front. With a tear in her eye, Osha looked upon her children. She then turned slowly to look at the captain and then to the mariner warriors. None could not return her gaze, and stared into the water.
"This treasure that you have heard about? Let me show you what you have fought and killed for." She took the boxes and handed one each to the captain and the mariner challenger. "Open them. The treasure is yours if you know what to do with it."
Each opened the boxes in turn and looked inside with confusion. "It is empty," cried the captain. "Nothing!" called out the mariner. Only a little water."
"You don’t understand," interrupted one of Mishak’s crewmen. "Each gave the other a box filled with everything they loved most dearly. In her box – what appeared to you like a little water – was, to her, the ocean. The captain told me that it contained her smell, the sea mist that she loved to play in as a child, the laughter of her mother, the sparkle of the sun on the crest of a wave at dawn. His box contained the wind that carried him over the sea and the same breeze that filled his sails each day he returned to the reef. It carried the sound of the gulls, the scent of the eastern gale, and the power of his mother’s stories.
"Sometimes I think we are at war," the first mate continued, "because we never take the time to look into one another's boxes. And when we do we see nothing. It is a terrible thing to see nothing when you look upon everything a person treasures."
Everything you see around you, all we have done, all we will do - happens because the members and friends of this institution choose to believe that our greatest treasure is found not in what the world gives us, but what we give to it. We will now receive this morning’s offering for the work of the church within and beyond these walls.
(Words by Peter Mayer; Tune by Prichard, # 307 in the hymnal)
Though below me, I feel no motion
Standing on these mountains and plains
Far away from the rolling ocean
Still my dry land heart can say
I've been sailing all my life now
Never harbor or port have I known
The wide universe is the ocean I travel
And the earth is my blue boat home
Sun, my sail, and moon my rudder
As I plow the starry sea
Leaning over the edge in wonder
Casting questions into the deep
Drifting here with my ship's companions
All we kindred pilgrim souls
Making our way by the lights of the heavens
In our beautiful blue boat home
I give thanks to the waves upholding me
Hail the great winds urging me on
Greet the infinite sea before me
Sing the sky my sailor's song
I was born upon the fathoms
Never harbor or port have I known
The wide universe is the ocean I travel
And the earth is my blue boat home
Let me tell you about a world very different than ours, but very much the same. It happened in a time where the earth was covered by fear and doubt, and divided among many different people.
People who believed in freedom and religious tolerance settled along a reef in the south. It was a place called Georgia. But others new it as ‘the edge of safety.’ It was sometimes a very dangerous place to be Unitarian Universalist.
Women and men came together, ate (at potlucks), played, sang, met one another, fell in love, married, raised families, taught their children and told stories.
Some people told stories about how they would, one day, find a real home – a place where they could feel safe and welcomed, and loved.
Some people told stories about treasure – for they were all treasure seekers – looking for riches and power.
And one of those people who told such stories was a woman named Bev. Some said she was foolish. Others, fearless. But one thing was certain: wherever she went, she brought a treasure with her.
Eventually she captained a ship and recruited people who understood what real treasure was. As the community of believers grew, people began to bring their own treasures with them to join in what was happening. When tensions ran high, she held above her head the artist’s rendition of her treasure. But she was nearly speared when talk turned to ‘pointy things,’ ‘pervious pavement,’ or ‘city permits.’
But slowly, many wise people came forward declaring that the treasure she spoke of was not about riches or power. It was about the sense of home that the people had forever been seeking. It was about creating a place where people could, like her, bring forth what was within them instead of coveting what was around them. It was about a place that cared for those who felt abandoned in the reefs. It was a place where finding peace was more important than finding power.
And, ultimately, as this dream spread a real treasure was discovered – an occupancy permit. One issued, not by the city, but in the hearts of each person who realized that the real value of the building was only as great as the treasures they brought to it. And that the best treasure comes in learning to see each other as we really are – inscribed with inherent worth and dignity. Each with something unique and essential that contributes to the whole.
That is what is valuable about this place. People. And the unique perspectives that we have, for too long, felt we had to keep in a box because they wouldn’t be seen or understood. Here, they can be.
What is in your box? What do you add to this collective treasure? This is not the time to be sheepish or modest. In the words spoken by Nelson Mandela,
We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?
Actually, who are you not to be?
You are a child of God
Your playing small doesn't serve the world.
There's nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you.
We are all meant to shine, as children do.
We were born to make manifest the glory that is within
And as we let our own light shine,
That is what we do here. And that is why this community exists. Not because of Bev, or the board, or the staff or the UUA. But because people knew there needed to be a place where they could let their light shine. That for too long we have hidden the most treasured parts of ourselves in a box for fear they would be misunderstood. But not in this place.
I ask you now to join in our annual water communion. This communion is open to anyone who has a gift – an ideal, a hope. You needn’t be a member, just someone who wishes to dedicate something of who you are to what this place can be. It may be the gift of optimism, organization, a good understanding of Buddhism, a love of children…
Just like drops of water fill make an ocean, please come forward, pour your water into the communion bowl, speak into the microphone and tell us what of yourself you dedicate to this place.
Water Communion Ceremony
It is our mission to find the treasure within our selves, within one another and within the larger world. Let us begin today and may our ministry make us all rich in love and spirit.
Rev. Greg Ward, Karen LoBracco - Story, Jeff Robbins – Piano; Dan Ben-David – Anthem; The UUMAN Children’s Choir